An experimental investigation of mechanisms involved in bed load sheet production and migration



[1] Field measurements indicate that, in gravel bed rivers, bed load may not be a one-to-one response to shear stress but may instead fluctuate a great deal over time for a given flow condition. Both in flume and field experiments, these fluctuations were often associated with migration of low-relief bed forms called bed load sheets. Whereas several studies have described bed load sheets as a consequence of grain sorting, little is known about the mechanisms responsible for their production and migration. These were investigated in flume experiments. A set of 20 experiments was conducted under constant feeding rate conditions, with mixtures of different uniform sediments and for slopes varying from 0.8 to 9%. Except for runs performed in high flow conditions, we observed periodic bed load sheet production and migration associated with fluctuations of bed slope, bed state (bed fining and paving), and bed load. Observations allowed us to conclude that bed load sheets resulted from very efficient vertical and longitudinal grain sorting that produced periodic local bed aggradation and erosion clearly observed in the upstream section of the flume. Fractional transport rates were measured in one run. Combined with the results of experiments previously conducted by authors with uniform sediments, this experiment showed that the highest (peak) solid discharges were essentially caused by the much greater mobility of the coarser gravels when transported within bed load sheets. A scenario is proposed for the mechanisms involved in bed load sheet production and migration.